Remember when Tesla blasted one of its cars into space? SpaceX, which, like Tesla, is owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, performed this stunt in February 2018. This was done to raise awareness of the company’s plans for crewed missions to destinations like Mars. Also, there was room in the payload of an unmanned launch that was scheduled for February 6, 2018.
This may have given Musk the idea to place a Tesla Roadster (the company’s sporty-looking two-seater e-vehicle) on the rocket (a SpaceX Falcon Heavy) boosting this launch. It contained a mannequin placed sitting up in the driver’s seat and wearing the next-generation, ultra-light and streamlined spacesuit that SpaceX had designed for the future crew of their putative exploratory missions. The company had unveiled this suit shortly before the car and its occupant (nicknamed ‘Starman’) set off for space.
What Will Happen to Starman Now?
Falcon Heavy helped Starman and Roadster break the Earth’s orbit and start to float beyond it, and into the solar system. The spacecraft had been aimed at Mars, with the hope that it would, at least, reach this planet’s orbit.
On November 2, 2018, Musk announced that the car had achieved its goal via his official Twitter account. Musk also joked that Starman’s next port of call would be 'the restaurant at the end of the universe,' which may delight fans of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.
Musk’s tweet that included a picture of Starman’s location, as of November 2, 2018. (Source: Elon Musk/Twitter)
However, Starman’s more realistic upcoming destination is the asteroid belt, a prominent ‘boundary marker’ for our solar system. This may sound dangerous for the car and its driver but SpaceX is of the notion that the worst thing that the vehicle can endure are the various kinds of cosmic and solar radiations, which are to be expected for anything present in space. Alternatively, Starman and Roadster may be hit with the odd "mini-meteorite."
SpaceX may be reasonable in thinking this particular launch may come to no more harm than that. The Tesla Roadster is currently drifting through space, rather than speeding under its own power or propulsion. It is thought to be traveling at only 7 miles per hour, which is exceptionally sedated for a human-made object in outer space.
In contrast, Parker, the probe intended to study the sun at greater proximity than any craft before it, has broken the world solar-probe speed record of 153,454 miles per hour (mph), as it successfully reached the giant cosmic body. Parker may have also comfortably exceeded 213,000 mph as it made a perihelion (an ultra-close pass at the sun) on November 6, 2018.
Parker’s approximate location as of October 31, 2018. (Source: NASA/JHUAPL)
Therefore, Starman is nowhere-near under that kind of pressure. It is thought that this space vehicle may make a solar orbit of its own after reaching the asteroid belt. However, this elliptical orbit will be millions of miles away from Parker by the time it reaches this point.
SpaceX believes that the Starman ‘mission’ is capable of continuing anywhere from 50 to 100 years because the car will not be subject to any kind of rust or degradation due to the lack of oxygen. However, it is possible that paint on Starman may have faded, quite a bit, from its extensive travels!
Will Starman Meet Us (Again)?
Then again, the only way we may see Starman is if the company is successful in its designs to set up space travel and extra-terrestrial human settlement as commonplace occurrences, by that time. Therefore, the crafts and capabilities needed to recover Starman may be available to them.
However, there are a lot of questions and issues to be worked out beforehand. For example, SpaceX has still not released any details on the suit that the mannequin has been wearing, since it blasted off into the solar system, behind the wheel of the Roadster. This information would be of interest to anyone dreaming of doing anything like the same, and (obviously) to SpaceX themselves. The integrity of Starman’s suit may one day inform the chances of survival of a crew member on a hypothetical mission.
All in all, it is demonstrably impressive that SpaceX has completed what is possibly the PR event of the decade. At the very least, it may have shown that a vehicle of some kind can lift off the ground and go beyond Mars.
The company’s next launch along the same lines may involve the reusable, commercial space-traveling service.
Top Image: The latest image of Starman and the Tesla Roadster in space. (Source: SpaceX)